Latest student testing data reveals widening gaps in disparities
RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) — Student performance data recently released by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) shows that the gap between the proficiency levels of white and black students is growing.
“We were going through a global pandemic and communities of color were hit hard, because of COVID. So much of the academic stuff we see though, we have to remember that a lot of the gaps we see actually happened before the pandemic. and COVID has exacerbated those gaps,” explained North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) President Tamika Walker Kelly.
A year into the pandemic, 14% fewer North Carolina students were proficient at their grade level. This decrease was greater for black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students who reported a 15-16% drop.
james E. Forda member of the State Board of Education and the executive director of the Center for Racial Equity in Education (CREED) called the results heartbreaking.
“Are they demoralizing? Yeah. Are they heartbreaking? Is this criminal? Yes, but they were criminals before the pandemic. It only made it worse and shed light on this force, and widened the chasm,” said said Ford.
He said the latest data gives a sense of urgency to the disparities and inequalities that have existed in the state for decades.
The latest data shows that all students are improving, but Hispanic students and economically disadvantaged students still report some of the largest gaps in overall proficiency level.
Before the pandemic, 30% more white students were considered “academicly competent” than their black peers, but now that gap is around 32%.
“What we’ve seen though is that our students of color and some of our most needy students, including students who are living in poverty or students with disabilities, need these extra supports to continue to do their academic gains as well,” Walker Kelly said.
Reading proficiency levels for students in grades three through eight were consistent across all student groups, with about 9% fewer students rated proficient in 2022 compared to 2019. Yet about double, the percentage of white students is at a proficient reading level compared to economically disadvantaged and black students in 2022.
There was more variability in math scores from grades 3 to 8. White students’ math scores fell five points lower than Hispanic students, who saw their skills drop 22 percent. Over the past year, all students have improved their math skills at equal rates.
A look at the neighborhoods
These trends are also manifesting themselves at the local level.
Average performance is lower for all Wake County students in 2022 compared to 2019. However, black and Hispanic students scored 9% lower on the annual school performance assessment last year, while white students scored only 1% lower.
Data showed that economically disadvantaged students in Wake County have been hit particularly hard and are struggling to bounce back. Seven percent fewer economically disadvantaged students are considered academically competent than before the pandemic.
Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students in County Durham schools still reported the biggest skill gaps since before the pandemic. Two percent fewer white students are considered academically proficient, compared to 8 percent of Hispanic students.
Meanwhile, all students in Cumberland County are reporting similar gaps across 2019 proficiency levels, with 6-8% fewer students at grade level.
In all three districts and across the state, the gap between white and black student effectiveness is widening.
To continue to address learning loss for all students, Kelly Walker said school districts must continue to provide additional support and resources, and that starts with money. Beyond just using pandemic relief money, she’s urging North Carolina leaders to increase funding to deliver those resources more consistently.
“The same remedies we need to meet learning needs during COVID are the same ones we need all the time. And these are resources that can be provided through policies and funding at the Assembly General of North Carolina. It is therefore up to our school districts, but also our parents, members of our community, educators and all allies to ask our general assembly to invest more in public education as a whole ” , said Kelly Walker.
Ford agreed and said investing in systemic and societal issues in low-income communities, such as broadband access, will be needed to permanently reduce some of those issues.
“There needs to be a higher dose of tutoring outside of school time, activities that help enrich students’ understanding and catch up with them. I think one thing that needs to be encouraged is that the data shows that, at in many ways, all groups have taken a hit, certainly in historically marginalized groups, but some recovery has already taken place,” Ford said.
Kelly Walker said while the recent data is testament to the hard work of educators, people should keep in mind that comparisons between 2019 and 2022 are like apples and oranges and other metrics to more accurately measure the student learning and growth are available.
“It’s really important to realize that the data is a snapshot in time and needs to be put into context with all the other work students are doing throughout the year. One of the many metrics the teachers review is a standardized test score, but they also review the actual work product of students,” she said.
Ford said it hopes the latest data will prompt changes.
“Hopefully this will inspire people to take action and not just talk about what’s wrong,” he said.
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